How did CWILL BC members get their first big breaks in the publishing world? In this series of interviews with local writers and illustrators, we ask what advice they would offer and what mistakes they would never repeat — an inside look at the publishing process, from the creators’ point of view. Please feel free to tell your own publishing tales in the comments section below.
What was your first book?
My first professionally published book was one I co-authored with Paola Opal: Saffy, a board book published by Simply Read books. But if you want to count my early books that I wrote in elementary school and high school and self-published, then it was The Magic Flute, a picture book that I self published in Grade Four that was basically a rip-off of the opera by the same name.
Did you have a mentor in the publishing world, or did you do it all on your own?
I have had MANY mentors and am so so lucky because of it. I would say my dad, who published books through The Western Canada Wilderness Committee, a non-profit environmental organization he founded, is my biggest mentor.
Do you have a favorite publishing moment? A career highlight?
Hmmm. I think when I held The Melancholic Mermaid in my hands. I so loved (and still love) how it turned out. I received it the same day of my first year anniversary dating my boyfriend, who is now my fiancé! He surprised me with a beautiful butterfly locket tucked inside a stuffed toy hedgehog (long story). But basically, it was one of the best days ever.
Another career highlight? When my agent, Emily Van Beek, offered me representation. My heart was humming like a hummingbird’s.
How did you find your publisher/agent?
I was first published by Simply Read Books. Michael Katz of Tradewind Books introduced me to Dimiter Savoff of Simply Read Books. I was looking for both a publisher and a company to edit for. He offered me a book to edit, and also loved my stories and offered me a contract for them as well. Finding my agent felt perfect, like magic — I applied to lots of agencies, some rejected me, some were considering me, but she had an enthusiasm and excitement that made ME excited. I think it is so important to find an agent who is on the same page as you.
How did you handle early rejections?
Hard. I started submitting my work to big houses when I was in high school. I didn’t understand what a form letter was back then, but I got a lot of them. And it didn’t feel very good. I was so used to achieving high marks in school as long as I put the effort in. I thought that publishing was like that: I had put a lot of effort into my stories and I though that that meant publishers would publish me. I didn’t realize how tricky publishing is. Or how tricky writing is! (My stories back then needed a LOT of work and deserved the rejections!)
Do you think about trends/marketing when you’re developing a project?
No. Not really. I do ask my agent now and she helps me out with that. But I think that a good story is a good story. If you try to follow trends or marketing, you might not be writing the best story you can.
What advice would you give an emerging writer/illustrator?
Perseverance. That is what publishing is all about. And craft. The more you work on your story, the more you polish your writing, the more you LOVE writing, the easier the publishing part will happen.
Is there a publishing mistake you would never repeat?
I don’t think so. I think you learn from mistakes. I probably will make lots more mistakes too. I just wish that I wouldn’t worry so much.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned since publishing your first book?
Whoa. There is a lot. Here are a few things:
- Once you publish a book the work isn’t over. You have to market your own work.
- At conferences, publishers GIVE away tons of books to librarians and booksellers because this will foster more interest in the books. It seems odd that you would give away 50 or 100 copies of a book and that will sell more books.
- Picture books are really really hard to write. The small word count is deceiving.
What project are you most excited about now?
One that involves a tiny tea party, a humongous cookie, and two sisters.